Farnell Road petition denied

Published 10:22 pm Monday, August 10, 2009

Pike County Commissioner Homer Wright didn’t hesitate in making a motion to keep a 1.8-mile stretch of Farnell Road in northern Pike County open.

The second of the motion came just as swiftly by Commissioner Charlie Harris and was followed by unanimous vote of the commissioners. A cheer went up from the large crowd of China Grove area residents who attended the public hearing on Monday in support of keeping the 200-year-old, dirt road open.

“I hope this ends the debate over the closing of Farnell Road once and for all,” said Jimmy Messick, China Grove resident who was the spokesman for the opposition group at the public hearing conducted by the Pike County Commission. “The people of China Grove and the surrounding area made their opinions known and the Pike County Commissioners agreed with us. That should be the end of it, and I hope it is.”

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The Pike County Commission made notice to the public on June 3, 2009, that a petition had been filed to vacate a 1.8 mile stretch of Farnell Road leading from China Grove to the edge of Bullock County.

The public hearing was held in response to the petition signed by several China Grove residents. The Pirnies and Deans own the property on both sides of Farnell Road petitioned for closing.

There is an alternate route, but it’s about two miles longer and crosses Panther Creek.

Grady Reeves, attorney for the Pirnies and Deans, told the commissioners that the petitioners didn’t have to give a reason for asking the county to vacate the dirt road that connects China Grove with Bullock County.

“The legislature passed that law and it was upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court,” Reeves said. “As long as vacating the road does not deprive any landowner of ingress or egress to his property there is no reason for the Pike County Commission to override this law.”

Reeves said because the Pirnies and Deans are the only landowners on the stretch of road petitioned for vacation that is all the commission could consider.

“Whether you like it or you don’t, whether you agree or disagree, whether you think it’s right or wrong, it’s still the law of Alabama and it’s up to the Pike County Commission to enforce the law,” Reeves said.

Reeves discounted the opposition’s claim that the road is used to a great extent by area residents. He said he drove the road and never saw a car until the petition was circulated and now it’s “like I-65.”

Reeves also said that there are more convenient ways to get to Troy and Bullock County other than on Farnell Road.

“You should look carefully at what the law is and there is no valid reason why you should deny the petition,” Reeves told the commissioners.

At the beginning of the public hearing, a petition with the names of 476 residents who are opposed to the vacation of Farnell Road was presented to the commissioners.

Messick spoke on behalf of those residents.

“I’m not a lawyer, but the way I read the law the decision is solely up to the governing officials,” he said. “Farnell Road is the thoroughfare for the people in our area and it’s the shortest route to medical attention for a lot us and it’s used by emergency vehicles. Water lines and phone lines run along the road. The U.S. mail uses the road. We use that road.”

Lewis Davis, chief of the nearby Meeksville Volunteer Fire Department, told the commissioners that using the alternate route could add as much as five minutes to an emergency run “under the best of conditions.”

Davis said five minutes is a long and crucial time in an emergency. “I’m begging you, please don’t close that road,” Davis said.

Darlene Lee, a Bullock County resident, spoke for those who live in the adjoining county but “Troy’s where we go for a town.”

Lee said Farnell Road is a farm-to-market road and part of the well-traveled China Grove loop. She cited an incident where fire claimed her family’s barn and a horse inside.

“Two minutes, five minutes could have made a difference,” she said. “Using the alternate route adds those minutes that could make a difference in an emergency.”

Reeves countered by saying there were no valid objections to the vacation of the road and called the objections “pure old-fashioned jealousy” to which there was a collective vocal admonishment by those who “begged” for the road to remain open. After a short recess, the Pike County Commission opened its regular meeting and voted against the vacation of the road.

Jimmy Dean did not wish to comment on the commissioners’ decision. However, Robert Pirnie said he didn’t agree with the decision but thanked the commission for listening to their side of the issue.